The worst possible move January 28, 2007Posted by dorigo in Art, Blogroll, chess, games, internet.
Chess is fascinating enough as a game, but as a brainteaser it is arguably even more so. Unfortunately, the world of chess problems is not as well-known. While everybody knows what a “mate in two” stipulation is for a chess problem (“white to move forces a mate in two to the black king“), or even a typical study (“white to move and win“), many would be surprised to know that there are dozens of different meaningful stipulations.
The best known ones, beyond the simple mate in two or three, are those involving things such as white taking back one move and mating in one, black and white collaborating to mate white, or white forcing black to mate himself. But there are many more, and each of them is interesting and artistic in its own right. Artistic in the sense that by composing problems with such stipulations, one can conceive manouvers which possess a beauty of their own.
I know a bit about that world, since I have composed chess problems myself in my youth. But today, as I checked the chess diary in Tim Krabbe’ site , I stumbled into a kind of problem I had never heard before: the worst possible move.
Basically, the idea is to put together a position where all but one of the legal moves white can make mate black in one move, while there is one, and only one (the worst possible move, that is), which totally turns the tables, forcing black to mate white.
In the position shown on the left, taken from Tim’s site (the problem is by Noam Elkies, 2006), white has 28 legal moves available. 27 of these mate black, by the twenty-eight (1.Qxc5?? – one should invent a new symbol, stronger than the question mark, to tag such a disastrous blunder) forces black to administer mate to the white monarch: 1….,Nxc5, mate.
Here there is a shift of paradigm from the brainteaser itself to the brain-teasing activity of putting together such a composition. Chess problem composers know quite well that it is much, much harder to put together a beautiful chess problem than to solve one, but in the case of the “worst possible move” stipulation (as in a few others) the problem by itself is usually quite easy or even trivial to solve, and the point is exclusively about putting together the position which brings the stipulation to the extreme.
The extreme is finding the position where the number of possible moves that white can make, all but one of which mate black, is the largest. So far, the record is 50. You can keep up-to-date on the developments of this new idea in the world of chess problems at item #334 in http://www.xs4all.nl/~timkr/chess2/diary.htm .